Dave Eggers has his detractors and I get it: he can be painfully preachy and didactic, elevating message over story, character and writing.
His 2013 novel The Circle was the most egregious offender in this regard. A 400-page screed about the perils of social media and big data, the characters were ciphers and the writing glaringly simplistic*. But with that book he got what he wanted: a huge audience for his ideas.
Heroes of the Frontier also has things to say: about modern America and motherhood, mostly. But while Eggers can’t help but intervene from time to time to tell us what he thinks, he’s much more restrained – and consequently more effective – here than in his previous bestseller.
Heroes is a shaggy dog story about a woman named Josie who takes her two young children on a roadtrip through deepest, darkest Alaska – a trip not exactly sanctioned by their father – as wildfires rage.
She’s both escaping her life – a deadbeat ex, a malpractice lawsuit, guilt over a friend’s death – and looking for something new.
Her journey is messy, and so is the book: aimless and scattershot but ultimately charming and enjoyable. It’s by turns sad and funny and Eggers is back to his best with his writing here. It’s perhaps not quite as good as A Hologram for the King but it’s a return to form nonetheless.
* Having said all that I still liked The Circle and devoured it in a couple of gleeful sittings.